Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The voice of life calls us to learn and the school of hard knocks

 This is what it should be but often it is rephrased to be " The voice of life calls us to earn". Education when debated in terms of cost/benefit analysis dehumanizes the whole idea of education. And this is the root of the problem. Education needs to be broadly seen as a project that enables humanity to hold up a mirror to itself rather than a diploma mill as the unexamined life is not worth living.

"Everyday our children spread their dreams beneath our feet"

But the great difficulty is making sure that children do not get a false sense of reality, not every child is going to become a star and telling someone that they will really is a lie. We can never predict the future with enough certainty to tell a wide eyed child that they will become "famous" nor should we. So yes dream because if we do not life can become a nightmare, and yes tread lightly on the dreams of others but false hope and folly can make us blind to real opportunities and our actual strengths. 

Though I cringe every time the term is used, resilience is generated by experiences where dreams are sometimes crushed but with support and empathy given by others we grow. Therefore, while noble TED-Ed is a collection of short online videos, it is just a start, but like genius education is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.

Ann S. Masten, Karin M. Best and Norman Garmezy (1990)
Development and Psychopathology, Volume 2, Issue 04, October 1990 pp 425-444

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Students doing research, Diigo, Google Scholar and ICT literacy

Currently my year 12 Information Technology Systems (ITS) students are creating an essay on a social and ethical issue in IT; really I have a hidden agenda here, that is to expose students to a key ICT literacy "seeking information online and  being critical of what they read". Key to this is learning about the wealth of research and information that can be accessed via the internet, the two tools I will discuss are Diigo and Google Scholar.

Google Scholar is a Google search service specifically for articles, books, journals, legal opinions and patents; ITS students are mainly interested in the books and journal articles. The beauty of this service is it provides our students with access to academically rigorous material to support their learning. The site details the number of times an article has been cited, a brief summary of the article and often a link to a pdf or HTML copy of the original article. This is undoubtedly a very valuable service because it enables students to gain an understanding about how knowledge and opinion is formed around the topic they are researching. Furthermore, when a book is retrieved from the search a link is provided to an online copy of the book on Google books. Interestingly very few students even knew about Google books.
Diigo is an online social bookmarking service. The key to Diigo is its ability to harness previous searches by others and so hopefully provide more relevant information. In addition to Diigo’s ability to share links it is also enables students to use virtual highlighting of online text if the free plugin has been installed, something that I recommend students try. Links, highlights and virtual sticky notes all can be shared and grouped together. All bookmarks can also be tagged with key term to assist with later retrieval. Often a student may find a website that would be of interest to another student. With Diigo they can save, tag and highlight the website and then create an email link to a copy of the website that has all their highlighting and sticky notes. Over time a user of Diigo can build up a large collection of links, annotations and notes similar to an online notebook. My own Diigo Library contains 1050 individual links and annotations which everyone is free to view and use. 

Some of you who are reading this post might being saying, "yeah so what, I use this stuff all the time". However, you would be surprised at how few students actually are! I have at times done a straw poll to see how many students are users of these types of online tools, I would regularly get about %10 who put their hands up. As the futurist Thomas Frey argues there are social and ICT skills that are vital for the future such as communication management, reputation management and privacy management. However, interestingly he appears to not mention critical thinking and a healthy skepticism for what one reads online. The inclusion of concepts such as Digital Creativity are also necessary because by being creative the students interactions becomes participatory rather than primary consumptive in nature.    


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The next evolution of learning will occur outside of schools, Changing Education Paradigms,

Is it the institution of education that constrains learning? Schools are primarily places of socialization and the indoctrination of people to fit within the dominant economic ideology of the nation or state in which they are situated. School is not primarily a emancipatory place of learning, learning happens in school despite the school itself. The long held legitimacy of schools and schooling is now challenged by the multiple sources of information now available via information communication technologies. More recently the participatory nature of the Internet has created vast opportunities for anyone to create, modify and explore knowledge. Yes a lot of content on the Internet is mindless filler. However, this is no different from television or popular print and visual media. Therefore, the idea that the internet only provides second class information quality should be tempered with the growing realization of the codification of the body of human knowledge into digitally transmittable formats

The next evolution of learning will occur outside of schools. This change has already started the precursors being the uploading of educational content by leading American universities. Educators  themselves are creating networks of like minded teachers via social networking platforms. The use of YouTube and other online video services are becoming ubiquitous. The use of online presentation sites like slide share to upload existing PowerPoint presentations and develop and disseminate new presentations. Despite these trends schools still block and restrict access to many Internet sites, especially social networks and video feeds. This attitude of blocking the perceived risky online services is based on a miss-understanding of the relative merits of the technology. Blocking this technology to protect students is often counter productive because many of them have access to social networking site from home or via a Internet enabled mobile phone.

The reason that the new state of education will occur outside of secondary educational institutions are because of the very institutional nature of schools themselves. In Australia the essentially two tracked education system private/public is equally unready or unwilling to embrace the changes that ICTs ultimately bring to learning. Public schools will strain under the lack of flexibility and work force that is heavily unionized and sometimes combative in nature, large changes can only occur via a large show of good will by all parties and this is often something that is in short supply. Private education is more flexible but is still bound by the expectations of the parents, whom provide private capital, and the culture of the school which may be etched into the collective psyche of the staff and be bound to a reproduction of class based structures and captive to narratives of perceived success.

The great hope for education lies in the increased professionalization of it's workers. Teaching at one time was a career that was mainly dominated by women, and therefore often underpaid and not held in high regard as other professions due to unenlightened patriarchal social structures. However, the sisterhood lead the charge and pushed for change to such an extent that now the career driven look back over their shoulders and see the ghost of motherhood haunting their success. Teaching is now better paid and held in higher -although more recently this is an arguable point-  regard but just as these victories enabled the battle weary to pause for breath the ICT revolution arrived. However; the leaders in education do realize the profound impact of the information technology revolution. While some leaders may not understand or have a deep technical grasp of the direct impact of ICTs, good leaders have given the space necessary for educational ICT innovators to ply their trade and experiment. 


Friday, April 1, 2011

Is this the beginning of the end for education in America?

I have recently begun following the tweets from Diane Ravitch and the above youTube clip I think encapsulates what the current state of play is in American primary and secondary education. The letter that she reads from a primary school teacher is heart breaking and I am amazed that the USA does not have a major teacher shortage on their hands. The tweet feed is full of themes of desperation, sorrow and down right unfairness for teachers, parents but MOST importantly it is the children's voices we are not hearing

Perhaps these voices are silent because of fear or a sense of powerlessness. Perhaps those in power don't want to hear their voices because if the letter from the teacher fighting to give kids a chance makes your eyes fill with tears then a semi literate, broken, struggling barely audible voice from a child who is talking about visiting his sole parent in jail should create despair and soul searching. 

What is happening in America? The land of the free and brave? 

Here your president talks about making sure that going to College is affordable to all of those who have the ability. He backs the ideas of supporting community Colleges and overall his message is very positive. He sounds like a president that understands that education can be an emancipatory force for the American people. But what keeps coming is still stories of disappointment and unfairness.

I tip my hat to all those teachers and educators in the USA fighting for the right of your nations children to a decent and fair education. And I count my lucky stars that here down under things have not gotten this rotten. And finally if our current Prime Minister looks to the US for educational policy inspiration I dearly hope she talks to the teachers first then the apparatchiks.